UK black metal veterans Winterfylleth recently released The Reckoning Dawn. Vocalist/guitarist Chris Naughton fills us in on the new album, the effect of COVID-19 on the band, the upcoming release from his other band Atavist and other topics.
Chad Bowar: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Winterfylleth as a band?
Chris Naughton: I think, for us, it was important for us as a band to use this situation to still put out the album, and to maybe bring people a little excitement or hope, in what has been quite a dreary few months for many. It didn’t make sense for me to sit on the album when it had already been manufactured and when we could potentially use it as a tool for good. I know it has brought a lot of people a point of interest while they are locked in the house, and I think that is why we wanted to do it. Whether or not that’s the right decision commercially is yet to be seen, but that’s not what this is about right now, and I hope our fans would want to check out and buy our new albums regardless of the situation. So let’s hope we were right.
How confident are you that your scheduled September/October tour with Panopticon will be able to happen?
Not very confident if truth be told, but we want to operate with the same kind of optimism we did when releasing the album. I think its good to have some light at the end of the tunnel, and I suppose that the shows represent that for me to some extent. They are hope and optimism for bands and fans wanting to get out and be normal again. If it doesn’t happen then we’ll push it back a year, but ultimately it WILL happen somehow.
How has the pandemic affected you personally?
We don’t live solely on our endeavors in Winterfylleth, and most of us have other pursuits that help with the bills. So in that sense, as things stand, we are all OK. But I think that this will have a really big impact on the bigger bands, who rely on touring for income, and also the venues/staff/promoters/hospitality industry who were the first to be closed down and will probably be the last to re-open. Who knows what the landscape will look like after the virus situation ends, but it’s a bleak outlook for many at this point!
When did you begin writing the songs that became The Reckoning Dawn, and was there anything unique about the process compared to previous albums?
When we were starting to make The Hallowing Of Heirdom, (our previous, solely acoustic album) it quickly became clear that it had to be based more on layering subtle melodies, strings, harmonies and counterpoints in our voices, where we would normally use the wall of guitar sound, extreme vocals and heavy drums, etc. The main aim being to try and capture the existing atmosphere of the band and bring that into the acoustic music somehow. This necessitated us writing differently than we were used to while figuring out how to fit the instruments around each other and make them complement each other where appropriate.
As a consequence of that we ended up having to write melodies and counter melodies for instruments we couldn’t play (violin/cello etc), in areas of the sonic spectrum we do not usually occupy in our metal songs. So, when you consider how we applied those learnings to the new album, it definitely made us think more about composition, about how to add lead guitar and melody, (and keyboards for the first time) where it was needed into the songs. All of this done in a way that bolsters the atmosphere, rather than competing with it. Also, it made us want to bring strings into the songs in a more obvious way, and as such there are two metal songs with string sections on them this time too. I’m hoping all of this leads to an immediate, passionate and virulent new album that definitely takes our metal sound that bit further than before.
You’ve worked with producer Chris Fielding on several albums. What about the partnership works so well?
When it comes to Chris Fielding, what can I say, he’s almost as much a part of Winterfylleth these days as we are. As well as being our producer, he’s also a close personal friend and member of our inner circle, outside of metal. I think its fair to say that we’ve all come up together in the music business, and whilst Chris works with lots of artists, we have a very close working relationship with him when it comes to Winterfylleth. We share early demos, ideas and concepts with him, months before we go near the studio, and so he knows the direction of the material before we even set foot in the studio.
Chris did a lot of work with us in the early days of the band, helping us to hone and capture our sound, and as such he just gets it when it comes to making an album with him. He knows how to capture the feeling, tone and energy that our music demands. In doing so it doesn’t usually need voicing that that’s what we want, because he just knows what it is meant to be, and how to evolve it in the right ways. So, it would feel unusual to me to just change that for the sake of change. I know lots of bands are obsessed with working with a variety of producers, and perhaps see some sense of freshness in that, but for me, I hope we are capable of creating that freshness that in the material we write. I think that a welcoming, comfortable and familiar environment (as well as recording personnel) is conducive to good studio performances, and that obviously adds an energy and vibrancy to the albums as well. So, when it came time to make The Reckoning Dawn it was never in question that we would work with Chris again.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
What was great about the recording of The Reckoning Dawn was that we did it at Foel Studio in Wales once again. Chris has moved back to working from there, having worked out of Skyhammer Studio (before its closure) in the time since we did The Threnody Of Triumph, our 2012 album. I think that was a boost for us as a band as well. It’s an amazing, classic studio that we have a lot of history and fond memories attached to.
A lot of the songs would have made good album titles. How did you decide on The Reckoning Dawn?
When we were coming up with the title for the album, I think it was broadly born of an observation that the world is becoming very politically and socially polarized in recent years – maybe more so than ever – and that it is seems to be reaching some kind of critical mass as a result. It feels like we are seeing more and more sub-groups of people (of all political dispositions and vested interests) appearing on the social landscape – seemingly out of nowhere – trying to shout the loudest for their share of voice in policy making or trying to dominate and steer the general discourse in their favor. This has in some instances led to conflicts, and the implementation of regulations, guidelines or policy that crosses a line for some people, while being welcomed by others.
Ultimately, this polarization has led to a kind of underlying tension between opposing sides of the argument, about who is right, and if certain things can or should become public policy or not. At times this seems to occur in the absence of objective reality and it also speaks to this strange, “post-truth reality” we seem to be heading for as a species. Even a casual observer of the social landscape can see and feel these tensions escalating, particularly in the actions of extremist groups on either side of the debate. These growing tensions have led to violence, doxing, cancel culture, assaults, riots and all manner of draconian law making that has, for example, put religious dogma before sense in elements of female healthcare. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in a sense, but I think it highlights this hugely polarized war of ideas (and ideals) that is going on out there in the world.
Depending on how deeply you look into the background of these things, there is always some kind of a lobbying interest, or a financial interest or a corporation who is directly or indirectly driving these things into public life (where they may never have been an issue or of any social use before), and who generally stand to profit or benefit from them, no matter the human or social cost.
In terms of the album title… originally, I had in mind that the reckoning in question would need to be some kind of metaphorical one; either of the mind – as this “war of ideas” was won or lost – or perhaps as some kind of physical one; where civil unrest ultimately led to some kind of resolution. But, either way, the reckoning would signify the end of an age and the start of another. As we came up with that and built a concept on it, I had no idea we would be faced with a biological reckoning of sorts across the world around the release of this album. So, make of that what you will. Nevertheless, we find ourselves in uncharted waters, and for the first time in generations feeling like we are on the precipice of something life altering that’s beyond our control.
What inspired your lyrics this time around?
Most of the lyrics are rooted in some kind of historical event, ancient poetry or prose and more often or not try to link the history of old to the struggles of the modern era. To give a few examples: “A Hostile Fate (The Wayfarer Pt. 4)” is actually the fourth in a series of songs based on the old poem, The Wanderer (from the Anglo-Saxon codices). It talks about an ongoing saga of loneliness and isolation felt by the protagonist who has lost his family/friends/kin in war, and how he suffers whilst coming to terms with his harsh reality. Whilst it was in no way intentional, its perhaps a strange and timely metaphor for the current landscape of self-isolation and lockdowns we are experiencing in Europe.
“Absolved In Fire” is broadly based on calling out those individuals and organizations whose toxic ideas and policies are forced into the world through insidious means (be that corruption, lobbying, paid media or misinformation) and is about making people aware of them. I guess the idea being so that they can become wise to them, reject them, or see through them for what they really are, tools against humanity. The lyric uses the metaphor of purifying fire to represent ‘ideas and their propagators’ being set ablaze to rid the world of them, so that humanity is not further enslaved by their instigation. I guess it’s a loose reference to concepts like social engineering and its weapons i.e. getting people to freely use social platforms etc (or other data platforms) under the pretense of fun and connectivity, where in reality their amassed data and outputs are being used against us. We’ve seen evidence of that across elections, politics, voting habits, misinformation targeting, etc. It’s also a reference to the wider concept of “if something is free, you are the product” and how people just aren’t aware of that. All of this, again, wrapped in elements of ancient text, from a long verse called The Phoenix.
“A Greatness Undone” is about the reckless pursuit of power and greed, and how that is not a new concept. The idea being that even though the earth created a rich bounty that is, by rights, the common heritage of all the worlds people, there will always be someone trying to control it, or sell out their fellow man to get a greater share of it. In this instance it refers to an ancient king or leader who gladly sold out his people (in the full knowledge of what he was doing) in a selfish, long term pursuit to gain from it. Essentially referencing the elements, or nature, as the resource which is being taken away from the people so the king can profit from it, and how he essentially doesn’t care about the human cost, by “damning a mother to darkness, by recklessly selling the sun.” A sharp reality when you consider the lengths some will go to in order to control/corrupt/dominate/profit from their fellow man.
In this uncertain time, how do you set goals and expectations for an album release?
I don’t know if you can to be honest. These are fully uncharted waters for our generation, and so we are almost writing the goals as we are going along, and trying to make the best of a truly leveling situation.
How much attention do you pay to reviews?
I think we are always interested to see reviews as a band. I guess to see how people are receiving the album and to see whether or not the things we have come up with are landing as we intended. Its always nice to get good reviews, but equally we are not very perturbed by bad ones. People want different things from music and react as they react, so its good to see the breadth of that opinion I guess. As far as it is having an impact on what comes after it, I’m not sure it does in a huge way. Its not going to steer us in any direction if we get a bad review, for example. We keep doing what we like to do and hope that people come on that journey with us.
What led to the reformation of Atavist a few years back?
As well as listening to this kind of music, I have also had cause to make some of it over the years. Outside of the albums I’ve made with Winterfylleth, I’ve always been into death/doom and ambient music, and anyone who’s followed my output will know that I was making heavy and bleak music with Atavist in the early 2000s. After a lengthy hiatus we have gotten the lineup from the second album, II: Ruined back together to make a new album, III: Absolution. I’d been writing this material in the background for years, and it just felt like the right time to bring it back to life. Thankfully the other guys were into doing that as well, and so I took it to our label guys at Candlelight and thankfully they were as into it as we were.
Give us a preview of your upcoming album that’s coming out in June.
To me, this album is a soundtrack through the depths of human emotion. From losing everything, mourning loss, realizing your own mind, right through to finding your way again. Ultimately finding absolution at the end of that journey. There is no joy here, only relief at the end of an arduous voyage. Check out our first single here.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
This week I’ve been mainly playing Nekrovault – Totenzug: Festering Peregrination, Afsky – Ofte Jeg Drommer Mig Dod, Warmoon Lord – Pure Cold Impurity, Warmoon Lord – Burning Banners of the Funereal War, Aes Dana – Inks, Arx Atrata – The Path Untraveled, Vegard – Bewitched by Moonlight Rituals, Synkro – Images and Blasphamagoatachrist – Bastardizing The Purity.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
The new Winterfylleth album The Reckoning Dawn is out now on Candlelight/Spinefarm Records. The new Atavist album III: Absolution is out on June 19th, 2020 again through Candlelight/Spinefarm Records.
(interview published May 19, 2020)